Penelope Unraveling Her Work at Night

Resource added
  • type
  • created on
  • file format
  • file size
    3 MB
  • creator
    Dora Wheeler (1856–1940)
  • credit
    Purchase, Sylvia and Leonard Marx Gift and funds from various donors, 2002
  • rights
    Available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee as part of the Met’s Open Access Program
  • rights holder
    The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • rights territory
    New York, New York, United States
Penelope, loyal and resourceful wife of Odysseus, secretly unravels her day's weaving at night to postpone the completion of her web and remarriage in Odysseus's extended absence.

Full Description

American silk embroidered with silk thread from 1886, 45 x 68 in. (114.3 x 172.7 cm)

Penelope stands in the center facing out toward the viewer. She turns her head to her left to look back at her loom behind her, where the tapestry she is weaving is hung. A small oil lamp on the left indicates that the scene takes place at night. By the lamplight, Penelope unravels her weaving. When her husband, Odysseus, failed to return home to Ithaca immediately after the conclusion of the Trojan War, Penelope began to be courted by suitors who pressured her to pick one of them to marry. To avoid marriage to one of these suitors, Penelope asked them to allow her to first finish weaving a web to eventually be used as a burial shroud for Odysseus's father. Every day she would weave, but every night she would unravel her weaving, indefinitely postponing the day of remarriage (until her ruse was found out).